By Paul Obi in Abuja
After all the muscle flexing and threats to shut down the country over the removal of the subsidy on petrol and the hike in the price of the commodity, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) yesterday suspended its protest, stating that it will now embrace dialogue.
The move came on the heels of the pressure mounted on the union by chieftains of the All Progressives Congress (APC) led by the former governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who hitherto fervently opposed deregulation in 2012, but now led the charge in calling on labour to shelve its opposition to the federal government on the policy and return to the negotiating table.
NLC had threatened fire and brimstone last week and declared a nationwide strike to protest the removal of the subsidy on fuel, insisting it was impoverishing the masses.
However, the strike was a complete flop in the country’s major cities and eventually petered into protests in Abuja and a few cities, which was largely ignored by the citizenry.
Efforts to shut down the country through the strike were not helped by the fact that NLC is factionalised and did not have the support of major labour unions such as the Trade Union Congress (TUC), National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and oil and gas sector workers.
Addressing journalists in Abuja yesterday, NLC President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, said the decision to suspend the protest was due to calls by several well-meaning Nigerians for labour to consider dialogue with the federal government as the best option.
Wabba, who read the communique issued by the National Executive Council (NEC) of the union, said it continues to stand by its position opposing the deregulation of petrol pricing by government.
He said: “After exhaustive deliberations, NEC noted its protest action was informed by the twin issues of the unjustified and illegal hike in electricity tariffs and increase in the pump price of petrol.
“NEC adjudged the protest action to be a success in spite of both internal and external challenges.
“NEC reiterated the correctness of its position on the twin issues of the electricity tariff hike and astronomical increase in pump price of petrol and the hardship they portend for Nigerian masses.
“NEC also acknowledged that the temptation to compare the strike action with that of 2012 could be compelling, but that the scenario had changed as both the actors and the terrain were different.”
Wabba stated that before NLC had embarked on the action, it had anticipated the probable outcome and therefore was not surprised by government’s negative response.
“Nonetheless, NEC felt fulfilled by having the presence of mind and courage to identify its mission and fulfilling it, stressing that if a similar situation arises again, it would still rise and stand with the people.
“NEC therefore commended those who took part in the action in one way or the other and reaffirmed its commitment to the struggle.
“The action, it reiterated was taken in the best interest of the poor and the weak and in drawing government’s attention to the dangers of relying on the importation of petroleum products as a sustainable strategy for making them available. It expressed the belief that in the days ahead time would prove its position right,” Wabba added.
Under the circumstances, Wabba said, NEC after due consultations with its constituents, resolved to suspend with immediate effect the action it commenced on Wednesday, May 18th, 2016. “The action is hereby suspended,” he said.
“Congress will resume negotiations with government on the twin issues of the hike in electricity tariffs and increase in the pump price of petrol and any other issue that may arise thereof.
“The congress will continue to resist wrong legislations, policies and programmes and will always act in the best interest of Nigerians as it remains the only pan-Nigerian organisation not affected by religion, region, creed, partisanship or primordial sentiments,” he added.
Labour also urged the government to play by the rules in its engagement with its constituent parts, stakeholders and non-state actors as proof of its commitment to deepening the country’s democracy and “also in acknowledgment of well-worn credo that what goes around, comes around”.
Wabba insisted that though labour will be returning to negotiations with government, it will still stand on the old price of petrol.
Wabba urged Nigerians to be vigilant, reminding them that at all times, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
He further accused the federal government and the police of using brute force in states like Ebonyi to intimidate and harass its members.
He however failed to acknowledge that members of his union forcefully drove away and locked out workers in some states who elected to go to work in defiance of NLC’s call for the strike.